Let’s Celebrate National Diversity Month in our Cafeterias
by: Julia Lee, Dietetic Intern
When I was growing up, our home was always filled with family and food. I was fortunate to live in a home with my Polish grandmother and her sister Alice, aka. “Auntie”. I can still remember Auntie in the kitchen, making her famous Polish Borscht (Barszcz) and her delicious pierogies. As I write this, reflecting on her and the foods she made, the feeling of comfort overwhelms me. This feeling inspires me, not only to serve these Polish dishes to my loved ones but to inspire others to express their culture through food.
Integrate ethnic foods
Children have traditionally been influenced by their families when it comes to food preferences. But today, schools have taken more responsibility for the provision of food. As a goal for school and childcare food service professionals, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Child Nutrition Programs encourages planning and preparing healthy meals that appeal to the ethnic and cultural tastes of children. Integrating ethnic foods can increase a child’s understanding and appreciation for their own culture and that of others as well. Finding value in each other’s characteristics, experiences, and differences enables others to respond with a feeling of connection, empathy, and compassion.
The American Dietetic Association suggests:
Meals be marketed in the classroom and related to core curriculum
Meals be marketed in the cafeteria with signage and samples
Involving families through menus, take-home newsletters, invitations to family meals at school and at presentations at parent organizations.
Diversify your menu
As a school food service professional, think about your school’s population and the diverse cultures throughout. To find inspiration for new ethnic recipes, take a step out into the cafeteria and see what the kiddos are packing for their lunches, or ask them what their favorite meal is at home. Diversifying your menu will not only be appreciated by and bring comfort to students of a specific culture, but it gives other students a view into what fellow classmates may have on their dinner tables. While I love my Auntie’s pierogies, some of my other favorite foods come from cuisines outside of my own family's traditional dishes.
As we celebrate National Diversity Month, embrace culturally diverse cuisines on your menu. This will help all students feel equal and included in the school cafeteria. They will also have the opportunity to appreciate foods that may be more common in their classmates' homes.